RISING FOOD IMPORT BILL COMPELS AGRIC REFORMS

•   Govt reviewing ISPAAD    

•   Urges people to produce more from their farmlands

In the midst of the deepening crisis of unemployment, low diamonds sales on international markets, a crippled economy and a projected deficit that runs into billions of pula, the Government of Botswana has pinned its hopes of reducing the import bill on agriculture. 

According to numerous empirical research articles, at Independence agriculture was the lead sector that accounted for 40 percent of the GDP. Researchers also note that the decline in the viability of the sector is in part attributable to the discovery of diamonds later. For over five decades now, the sector has declined until the present time where it contributes a paltry 2 percent of the GDP.

There is a plethora of challenges that have engulfed the once mighty agriculture sector. This week in Parliament, the Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Dr Edwin Dikoloti, stood confidently and proclaimed that the government will rekindle love for agriculture to make it viable once again. Dikoloti was presenting his ministry’s budget proposals before the Committee of Supply.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who was in attendance, observed that it is essential to consider a holistic review of the sector. Masisi, who spoke more on livestock production and leveraging on the use of Artificial Insemination, said if Botswana sells the outside world, money will come into the country. 

“It is essential for us to teach ourselves how to produce in these dry seasons,” Masisi said in Parliament on Monday this week where he also appealed to MPs across the aisle to consider venturing into agri-businesses. “Encourage people to venture into agriculture. You should also do it.” 

The vice president of Alliance for Progressives, who is also the MP for Francistown South, Wynter Mmolotsi, said in this period of unpredictable rains and climate change, the government ought to assist farmers by drilling boreholes for them in their farms and extending subsidies. “Let’s try to subsidise agricultural equipment and machinery,” he added.

But he had reservations about the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC). “BMC should by now be a multinational company,” he said. “This would have given us income as a country. Keeping the BMC to ourselves as Botswana killed us.”

Minister Dikoloti told the House that the government is in the process of tweaking the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD). An ongoing land audit will inform government of the land it has and how to better use it within localities where land is available. “Lands are not being fully utilised,” said the minister. “Thatis why in the process of tweaking ISPAAD over and above fencing these lands, we will try to de-bush, re-align and encourage farmers to use their lands. In all this, we have our eyes gazed upon the food import bill which we all here agree should be our responsibility.”

The review of ISPAAD will also see government grouping farmers and drilling boreholes for them in their identified clusters. “The wish is for those who own land to utilise it during ploughing seasons,” the minister said. “In the event some people fail to use their land, they should lend it to those who have the capacity to do so because we want to reduce importing food.” 

Botswana’s food import bill runs into millions per year, with Statistics Botswana putting the figure for 2019 at P5.587.0 million. There is concern that with rising production costs and a growing population, the bill will escalate to unsustainable levels, especially if domestic food output does not improve.